Earth’s North Magnetic Pole Has Officially Shifted

by : Lucy Connolly on : 03 Feb 2019 20:09

Earth’s north magnetic pole has shifted so much that scientists have had to update the World Magnetic Model (WMM) mid-cycle.


The north magnetic pole has many uses, including military navigation and air traffic management, meaning its rapid shift has the potential to cause many problems.

Although it has been slowly shifting from Canada to Russia since its discovery in 1831, in recent years the north magnetic pole has picked up speed and no-one can quite explain why.

Scientists have been forced to work on an emergency update for the WMM, one year ahead of its scheduled five-year update.


The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information said in a press release that the rapid movement had ‘forced’ them to release the new model.

They wrote:

Due to unplanned variations in the Arctic region, scientists have released a new model to more accurately represent the change of the magnetic field between 2015 and now.

This out-of-cycle update before next year’s official release of WMM2020 will ensure safe navigation for military applications, commercial airlines, search and rescue operations, and others operating around the North Pole.

As reported by Nature News, the updated model was due to be released on January 15. However, the National Geographic reports that the US government shutdown prevented this from happening.

Two weeks later the update was complete and was officially released on Monday (February 4), meaning the magnetic north can once again be located precisely all around the world.

The magnetic north isn’t fixed; instead, it changes based on the movement of Earth’s liquid core. But where it just used to wander aimlessly, The Guardian reports the pole has started to accelerate towards Siberia at about 34 miles a year in recent years.


Such a rapid shift has thrown scientists off and has made the update of the WMM necessary. It is so important because the pole is used to navigate; if GPS systems fail, particularly in the Arctic where the pole is located, it could cause all kinds of chaos for planes and ships.

Maintaining an accurate measurement of the north magnetic pole is also crucial for smartphone technology, as both Apple and Google Maps rely on it.

However, your iPhone most likely won’t experience any difficulty, as the pole’s recent movement will not make a drastic difference to latitudes lower than around 55 degrees.

Although it’s not known exactly what’s causing this sudden movement, scientists believe the Earth’s magnetic field will eventually flip due to it becoming steadily weaker.

Despite this, scientists are adamant there is nothing to worry about in the near future as the magnetic field changes continuously.

Ciaran Beggan, a geophysicist at the British Geological Survey, told CNN:

The magnetic field (changes) continuously, but it is partly because of its natural behaviour.

So everyone chill out, yeah?

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Life


US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information and 4 others
  1. US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Center for Environmental Information

    World Magnetic Model Out-of-Cycle Release

  2. Nature News

    Earth’s magnetic field is acting up and geologists don’t know why

  3. National Geographic

    Magnetic north just changed. Here's what that means.

  4. The Guardian

    Polar express: magnetic north pole speeds towards Russia

  5. CNN

    Earth's magnetic north pole is hurtling toward Russia